CWWH Newsletter 16, no. 1 (Spring 2023)
Katherine Massoth, University of New Mexico
Letter from the Chair
Dear Coalition Members,
In general, things are good. Spring is here, and the anticipation of summer is around the corner. But at the political level, women face challenges. At the professional level, many of us are feeling burnout. And for all of us, life happens, sometimes in frustrating and tragic ways.
But what heartens me is that I know that the work the Coalition’s members are doing is providing a counter to those messages, an alternative to false historical narratives, and inspiration for the future. I applaud the work that you’re doing in teaching classes, addressing scholarly and, importantly, public audiences, and your ongoing research and writing that continues to bring to light a vibrant and diverse past that rejects the false histories that uses nostalgia and open white supremacy to make claims to the present.
When I get frustrated, I turn to the reasons I love western women’s history in the first place—the women and the history. One of the most optimistic things is the new work of rising scholars.
Please help us continue supporting that scholarship by spreading the word about our graduate student research grant, the Irene Ledesma Prize, due August 15th. I know that a number of our members knew Dr. Ledesma, but it struck me that not all of you do. I never had the pleasure of meeting her myself, but she was an important emerging voice in Chicana history. As a historian, I wanted to inform myself of who she was and remind our community of the women we honor with our awards.
Irene Ledesma was born on Valentine’s Day 1950 in Pharr, a border city in Hidalgo County, Texas. She received her BA and MA at Pan American University (now UT Pan American) in 1972 and 1977, respectively. According to her close childhood friend, Juanita R. Cantu, they were the first two history graduate teaching assistants at Pan American College (now UT Pan American). She then taught in local school districts and served as an instructor at Pan American for several years. After a time, Irene decided to seek a PhD, which she received from Ohio State University in 1992, where she wrote her dissertation, “Unlikely Strikers: Mexican-American Women in Strike Activity in Texas, 1919-1974.” She held the Chicana Dissertation Fellowship at UC Santa Barbara in her final year of graduate school. Her dissertation advisor was women’s historian Lelia Rupp, the first faculty member in women’s studies at OSU before that was even an academic unit. After earning her doctorate, Irene became an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. She published her article, “Texas Newspapers and Chicana Workers’ Activism, 1919-1974,” in the WHQ (November 1995). It won the Jensen-Miller Prize that year.
The Jensen-Miller Award, established by the Coalition in 1990 and now facilitated by the WHA, recognizes the best article in the field of women and gender in the North American West. Irene was on her way to becoming an important voice in the field but died tragically just two years later in 1997. The next year, her friends and colleagues in the Coalition established the Irene Ledesma Prize in her honor. If I’m doing my math correctly (this is questionable), that makes this year (2023) the 25th anniversary of the Ledesma Prize. You can see a list of most of the winners on our Coalition website.
What an incredible legacy. See our Member News for more inspiration.
Cathleen Cahill, Penn State University